Rad plaid and PVC pleats: what lies be­neath the mod­ern kilt

The tra­di­tional Scot­tish skirt has moved into the 21st cen­tury, writes Christo­pher Scan­lon

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Britain -

T is a bit­terly cold sum­mer’s day along the Royal Mile in Ed­in­burgh and tourists mill about un­der the stern eyes of the great fig­ures of the Scot­tish En­light­en­ment, such as Adam Smith and David Hume. Many of the shops on this stretch are de­voted to all things Scot­tish, or at least the kitsch of Scot­land’s past that ap­peals to tourists.

At least one de­signer on the Royal Mile, though, has his eye on the fu­ture. The mis­sion of Howie R. Ni­cholsby of kilt shop Ge­of­frey (Tai­lor) Kilt­mak­ers (57-61 High St) is to bring the kilt into the 21st cen­tury. Look be­yond the tra­di­tional tar­tan kilts at the front of the shop and you’ll spy kilts made from vel­vet, silk, leather and even sil­ver PVC. The PVC num­ber was Ni­cholsby’s first at­tempt at mak­ing 21st Cen­tury Kilts, a line de­signed to trans­form the gar­ment into everyday wear for any oc­ca­sion.

I knew at the time that not many men were wear­ing PVC, me in­cluded,’’ he says. It was more a state­ment: take a tra­di­tional out­fit and give it a mod­ern twist.’’

Ni­cholsby’s ex­per­i­ments in kilt-mak­ing be­gan dur­ing his gap year in Is­rael when he started wear­ing a cam­ou­flage-print kilt lower and looser than the tra­di­tional high-waisted kilt. It was there that he had the idea of mak­ing a hip­ster kilt, shorter in length than the tra­di­tional high-waisted va­ri­ety.

Re­turn­ing from Is­rael, he went to work for his fa­ther’s com­pany as spe­cial projects co-or­di­na­tor. With some cash he’d saved, he started pay­ing the kilt­maker a bit of over­time to make kilts for him. Now he sells ev­ery­thing from pin­stripe kilt suits to ca­sual denim kilts.

And Ni­cholsby prac­tises what he preaches. It’s rare to find him in any­thing other than a kilt. I’ve got one pair of com­bat trousers and trackie bot­toms for do­ing the gar­den­ing . . . and around the house, I wear shorts and a dress­ing gown. I’m not a fan of be­ing held in any more,’’ he says with a grin.

Ni­cholsby even has a cycling kilt made from rip-stop ny­lon with re­flec­tive tape sewn into the pleats. But he ad­mits to wear­ing cycling shorts un­der­neath in case of wind gusts.

The re­sponse to Ni­cholsby’s quest to make the kilt a part of the mod­ern man’s wardrobe hasn’t all been pos­i­tive. He points to a rain­bow-coloured tar­tan that split the Tar­tan So­ci­ety — one of the or­gan­i­sa­tions that reg­is­ters new tar­tans — be­cause it was based on the Gay Na­tion flag.

It’s called the Rain­bow. One guy in the or­gan­i­sa­tion was fully aware of what it was and put it past the older guy. It got reg­is­tered, and gained pub­lic­ity and the older guy found out what the rain­bow flag is. It’s his own ig­no­rance. If you go to any gay com­mu­nity and gay pride event, you see the rain­bow.’’

Ni­cholsby is far from an anti-tra­di­tion­al­ist, though. He comes from a long line of kilt­mak­ers. His grand­mother taught his grand­fa­ther how to make kilts and they went into busi­ness af­ter World War II. He in­sists on mak­ing kilts by hand in the tra­di­tional way; most are made to cus­tomers’ spec­i­fi­ca­tion from fabrics he com­mis­sions. Their pre­ferred sup­pli­ers are also Bri­tish, as part of an ef­fort to sup­port lo­cal in­dus­try.

He’s also not averse to us­ing mod­ern le­gal tools to pro­tect tra­di­tion. He’s work­ing with Scot­tish mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Alyn Smith on a Pro­tected Geo­graph­i­cal In­di­ca­tor for the Scot­tish kilt.

PGIs ap­ply to prod­ucts such as cham­pagne. Sparkling wine can only be called cham­pagne, for ex­am­ple, if it is made in that re­gion of France. In the same way, if the kilt in­di­ca­tor is suc­cess­ful, it will mean a kilt can only be called Scot­tish if it is hand-sewn and made of pure wool in Scot­land. The wool could be wo­ven in China, but if you’re go­ing to go to the ef­fort of hand-sewing it and mak­ing it in Scot­land, you can still call it a Scot­tish kilt,’’ Ni­cholsby says.

His prag­matic ap­proach to meld­ing tra­di­tion and the mod­ern world ex­tends to that age-old co­nun­drum of what to wear un­der a kilt. I still wear un­der­wear. I’m quite hon­est about that,’’ he ad­mits. I only re­ally go com­mando for spe­cial oc­ca­sions such as wed­dings or par­ties.’’ Christo­pher Scan­lon teaches jour­nal­ism at La Trobe Uni­ver­sity, Mel­bourne.

Check­list

Prices vary from about £275 ($645) for a denim kilt to £1250 for leather. A pin­stripe and plain wool kilt suit pack­age, in­clud­ing kilt, jacket, waist­coat, socks and a spe­cially de­signed 21st Cen­tury Kilt pin, is about £865. All kilts can be made with de­tach­able pock­ets; ship­ping is ex­tra. If you can’t make it to the shop for a per­sonal fit­ting, the web­site ex­plains what mea­sure­ments are re­quired and how to take them. More: www.21stcen­tu­ryk­ilts.com.

Kilt by as­so­ci­a­tion: Scot­tish garb is mov­ing on

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